The weekend after Christmas I traveled back home to visit family. Out of respect for my parents and grandparents, I attended Sunday mass with them on Sunday. It was the Feast of the Holy Family. The usual priest at this particular church is a pretty good guy, but he had a recent fall and was in the hospital. In his place was a different man who rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning. When he stepped in front of the congregation to give his homily, I knew I was going to disagree. For a while, I thought I was wrong. Everything he said I was agreeing with. Then, he ended his speech with this list of “violent attacks against the family” in our society.
I had expected a handful of those items to be on the list, but the first one he picked on was single parent households. He said those three words so ominously, as if such families were as terrible as homosexual families. Now, I don’t believe either kind of family is wrong or evil, but I didn’t expect a Christian religion to condemn a single parents raising children in the same way they condemn people who are attracted to the same gender.
If not for the presence of my family, I would have walked out in that moment. Why should we feel guilty for being something other than perfect? Even more, I disagree that the above list constitutes a ‘violent attack against the family.’
As I said in the beginning, I was surprised to find I agreed with everything this priest said before. Invoking the words of Pope Francis and the former Pope and current Saint John Paul II, he described the family as a sanctuary for life. Family is something we are born into. It is something that protects us and shelters us from a world that can be all too cruel. When the rest of the world tosses us aside and we have no one left to turn to, we have family.
Well, that is the ideal at least.
In all these things, I agree. My family is large and far from perfect. If I felt like it, I could list all the problems and imperfections of each person. Those imperfections, though, don’t matter. What matters is that family sticks together. Sometimes family members stray. They may get involved with the wrong crowd and refuse to participate in family gatherings. But, and again this is the ideal, they should know they can always lean on that family if ever they choose to return.
Family is sacred even when it isn’t perfect.
For the next few weeks, I will be addressing each of these points with a rebuttal. No one can argue that every single thing on that list is okay in the sense that people welcome the event. There are certainly some things on that list no one wants to so much as consider. Still, we live in an imperfect world. We can try hard to achieve and maintain a whole, loving family, unmarred by most of those things. It doesn’t always work out that way, though, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make our family any less valuable.
On the topic of the ideal family, who says a male and female married under law and God is perfect? Who says that is the only way to be? There are many stories where families just like that end up being a sanctuary for violence and abuse.
Guess what? Things like domestic violence, child abuse and marital rape were not listed among this priest’s ‘violent attacks against the family.’ Even lesser problems, such as poor communication and fighting in front of children were left unlisted.
And what of religion’s failures? Some might claim, given recent scandals in the Catholic Church, that priests can violently attack a family. Some might claim the church is responsible for the harassment that leads too many LGBT youths to kill themselves, further supporting the argument that religion is a threat to family.
There are so many problems in this world that generate orphaned children and widowed spouses. Are you seriously saying a homosexual family who takes in an orphaned child, filling their life with love and support, is violently attacking family? Are you seriously claiming a single parent struggling to raise their children after losing their partner for any reason should feel ashamed their family doesn’t have two parents?
I’ll give this priest the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think he counted single parent households where the absent spouse had died or had been abusive in that list. I don’t think he considered an orphaned child to be better off alone than with a loving family. I don’t think he considered issues of rape, abuse and neglect within Christian, heterosexual families when he made that list. That said, lack of intention to cause offense does not make his comments any less offensive.
What do you think of this priest’s list of ‘violent attacks against family?’ Do you think Pope Francis and Saint John Paul II would agree with him? Who do you know whose family fits one of the points on this list? Do you think they should feel ashamed at the state their family is in?
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